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Wannacry’s message for Montgomery County

techtuesdaypetrThe recent ransomware attack, also referred to as WannaCry, was a wake-up call to the large majority of businesses in Montgomery County that use Windows operating systems. Hackers exploited a tool, which ironically was first developed by the National Security Agency, to take advantage of a security hole in older Windows machines.

In Montgomery County, where cybersecurity has quickly become one of the key economic engines, this latest viral attack should be viewed as both a threat and an opportunity. For businesses looking for guidance on preventing infection from WannaCry and future computer phishing attacks, the U.S. Small Business Administration offers helpful answers. You can also visit the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation homepage at thinkmoco.com.

Microsoft took the unusual step of releasing a patch to update the older, unsupported Windows systems that were primarily impacted by the infection. The virus spread so rapidly because many major firms like health care and telecom organizations are running “legacy software,” or outdated technology that no longer receives software updates.

Therefore, it is critical for businesses to take advantage of Microsoft’s patch offer if you haven’t done so already. And for cybersecurity businesses that count large companies as their primary clients, the lesson learned is clear: Windows machines are not like office furniture; they must be regularly upgraded and maintained.

Fortunately, Montgomery County has an abundance of riches when it comes to resources available for the cyber community. The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence and the National Institute for Cybersecurity Education, jointly form a collaborative hub where industry organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions work together to address businesses’ most pressing cybersecurity challenges.  The center, which is at 9700 Great Seneca Highway in Rockville, was established in 2012 in partnership with the state of Maryland and Montgomery County.

As part of our strategic plan, MCEDC is taking a lead role in fortifying Montgomery’s key industries. To capitalize on the county’s cyber infrastructure and ecosystem, MCEDC commissioned research in 2016 to provide us with a roadmap for capturing more of the projected $202 billion in national cybersecurity transactions.  A working group comprised of local cyber entrepreneurs and business owners was then tasked with developing recommendations to further grow our footprint in the sector.  The full details of the final reports issued earlier this year can be found on our website. In short, key takeaways include:

  • Create a consulting team of cybersecurity experts who can assist companies in evaluating and purchasing new, local cybersecurity technologies.
  • Raise awareness of the county’s existing cybersecurity community and demonstrate its continued commitment to additional growth. This includes communicating about regional cyber activities, policy developments, capital investments and providing stakeholders with regular industry updates.
  • Create a life-cycle investment fund or board that invests, directly, into local cybersecurity startup companies.
  • Provide policy and legislative guidance to all levels of government regarding the cybersecurity industry.
  • Develop talent, in conjunction with WorkSource Montgomery to expand the county’s cybersecurity workforce.

MCEDC is well on its way toward implementing many of these suggestions. Our newly re-launched website highlights the enormous potential of our cybersecurity economy with profiles on successful homegrown businesses, information on tax credits and a list of resources and networking events designed to foster the county’s cyber community.

Meanwhile, Montgomery College and WorkSource Montgomery are working collaboratively to ensure future curriculum and courses of study are being designed that meet the needs of cyber-related employers. Montgomery has tremendous resources in higher education, coupled with a strong corporate commitment to STEM K-12 instruction from companies like Lockheed Martin Corp., headquartered in Bethesda.

Statewide, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan just announced the creation of Excel Maryland, a program to ensure life science and cybersecurity companies that start up in the state stay here, as they continue to grow. The governor is appointing a board made up of top cybersecurity and life science CEOs from across the state. They will complete a report to the governor by Aug. 31, making recommendations on how best to help foster the full life cycle of cyber and biotech companies in Maryland.

The ransomware infection was a damaging and costly experience for many businesses. But the intellectual assets and public-private alliances that exist in Montgomery County present an opportunity for our cybersecurity to flourish, especially in a time when they are needed most.

David Petr is president & CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.

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